Related: 40x40 List
Date completed: Sunday, November 1, 2015
My love of the Mississippi River is well documented. I consider myself lucky to have reason to visit her every weekday since my office at the University of Minnesota is steps away. I like to walk across the Washington Avenue Pedestrian Bridge to start and end my work day. Outside of work, I've walked along the east and west banks many times in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. I love that throughout the Twin Cities metro, the area surrounding the river has many personalities and the development ranges from gritty industrial to serene natural beauty to swanky residential.
But it's a big river - some may even say it's mighty - and deserves to be explored fully. Right around the time I was making this list in January, my friend Lisa and her family spent a weekend visiting river towns. Seemed fitting for the 40x40 list. Thanks for the inspiration Lisa!
One significant change in how this item was executed is that we only spent a day exploring and not an entire weekend. Ideally we would have made this trip one or two weeks prior during the the peak fall colors. Perhaps another year!
We started our day on the Wisconsin side of the Great River Road.
Before walking around Stockholm, we stopped at Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area for a hike. Thankfully Google Maps guided us to the area since there were no signs indicating this place exists. Once we arrived, there were no markers designating the trails. Adventure! It was well worth the initial confusion as the view from the top of the limestone bluff is breathtaking. We even spotted a few bald eagles.
Since we were so close, we also stopped at Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery even though we were too late for apple picking. We sampled the ciders and purchased a 6-pack of Crabby Cider™ made with Dolgo crabapples and a jar of apple butter.
We arrived in Stockholm and pretty much beelined to Stockholm Pie & General Store. It is the cutest and their pies (and dumplings) are spectacular. High on sugar, we walked around the two streets that make up Stockholm's business district. I'm glad we were able to stop and look around since the last time we were in the area, we passed it on our way to the A to Z Produce & Bakery Pizza Night (my photo of the day).
Read all about Stockholm's charms from Heavy Table.
Until I was researching our route for this day trip, I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize that Lake Pepin is actually part of the Mississippi River - the widest naturally occurring part of the river, in fact.
Though we were stuffed on pie and dumpling, we stuck with my plan of having lunch at Harbor View Cafe before they close for the season. Harbor View has been on my restaurants to try list for a long time and for good reason. It's a charming restaurant that feels similar to those we visited on the coast of Maine. I had the "telefonos" - mozzarella stuffed risotto cakes on a bed of sautéed greens surrounded by roasted vegetables and the curry cauliflower soup. Scott had the Oregon King Salmon with asparagus, wild rice, and cranberries and mushroom barley soup.
We were so stuffed it almost ruined the experience. Perhaps a sign that this area is deserving of more than a day trip if you plan on enjoying all the culinary offerings.
We started walking around Pepin's business district but since it was Sunday and the end of the season, there wasn't much to look at. So, we returned once again to the water to walk around.
Here's a great guide to exploring Lake Pepin.
We originally planned on a stop at The Original Nelson Cheese Factory before crossing over the river to the Minnesota side. When we missed our turn, we just kept on driving. I guess that will be a stop for a future road trip!
We walked around the cute Wabasha downtown and the riverfront. We considered going to the National Eagle Center but we were running out of time to reach Red Wing before the shoe store closed. Another item for my growing "next time" list.
Even if you don't consider yourself a bird watcher, you'll likely be enthralled by the large raptors that call the area home. You can even watch them in action while sipping on a beer at Read's Landing Brewing Company like we did!
Red Wing, Minnesota
We made it to Red Wing just in time to visit the Red Wing Company Museum inside its Main Street shoe store. Not only did I get to pose with the World's Largest Boot, I also learned that Vasque is a Red Wing brand. I used to wear them in college and now I have my eyes on these beauties. When I asked about women's boots I was told that they have a line scheduled to launch late 2016 or 2017.
Looking at all those shoes made me want to walk along the river since the sun was setting. It was a beautiful end to a great day on the Great River Road.
The biggest takeaway for me is that no matter how many times we've tried, Scott and I do not like spending a lot of time in the car. It would have been more enjoyable if we had stayed somewhere for the weekend and taken lots of walks and spent time in surrounding regional and state parks. We'd then explore the towns for our breaks. The prospect of driving the entire length of the Great River Road still appeals to me but it would probably take us 10 weeks instead of the suggested 10 days.
The Nivens Family